The pros and cons of gentle parenting

Zofishan Umair

Zofishan Umair

Zofishan is a journalist, humour columnist, and a mum who has survived nappy explosions mid-air. She has over a decade of experience writing for print and online publications and is currently working on her first book.
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Updated on Jul 04, 2024 · 11 mins read
The pros and cons of gentle parenting

Are you even a parent if you haven't tossed and turned nightly, wondering if you're getting any of this right? Is your parenting approach the right one for your child? How do you know if you are being too strict or too lenient?    


With so much information out there, it can be hard to choose a parenting style. That is if we even get to choose one in the first place. Because when you account for your own values, upbringing, and your family’s situation (parent the kids you have, not the kids you want – right?), there’s a lot more to the equation.

Perhaps one of the most talked about parenting styles today is ‘gentle parenting’ which encourages parents to build a positive relationship with their child. There’s a lot of noise around what gentle parenting is (and a lot of content that leads you down the parent-comparison spiral). To make your life a little easier, we’re breaking it all down.

Meet the gentle parent


Patient, calm in the face of meltdowns, and won’t lose their cool at the sight of a mess. Permanent marker stains on their white sofa? No problem. You’ll see them get down on one knee and talk to their child about their feelings in a calm, composed voice.

Or at least, that’s the goal. It’s often a work in progress.

Are gentle parents just born this way? Or is it possible to learn how to transform your overwhelmed self into one of these…calm creatures?

The good news is, with practice, anyone can be a gentle parent. The not-so-good news? It takes reflection, insight, self-care, compassion, an excellent support network, and plenty of practice.

There are four pillars of gentle parenting: mutual respect, empathy, understanding, and healthy boundaries. But before we dive into how to be gentle parents, let’s understand this specific parenting approach.


Understanding your parenting styles


Every parent wants to do the best for their children, but there’s no perfect roadmap. What works for one family might not suit another, and the influence of our upbringing adds another layer of complexity.

In recent years, child development experts and gentle parenting advocates have highlighted gentle parenting as an evidence-based approach. This method isn’t just about setting rules; it’s about understanding and nurturing your child’s emotional and mental health, emphasising emotional control and positive traits.  But like any other approach, it has its pros and cons.


What is gentle parenting?


Gentle parenting is an approach that focuses on building a partnership with your child, encouraging them to make decisions based on their desires rather than external pressures. This style emphasises understanding and responding to the behaviour you model, nurturing your child’s emotional health, and accepting their complete, capable selves without imposing strict rules. In short, gentle parenting utilises natural consequences instead of parental discipline.

Unlike traditional methods that often rely on punishment and rewards, gentle parenting opts for being a parenting coach rather than controlling – fostering self-control at a young age.

This means guiding children toward understanding their actions and emotions through empathy, respect, and consistent, compassionate boundaries.

It shifts away from shaming and punishing, instead fostering an environment where children can grow into confident, independent, and happy individuals. This collaborative style allows both parents and children to have a say, making it a more democratic form of parenting.

But importantly, it still involves setting boundaries. 

Gentle parenting means you still choose to set clear and consistent boundaries. But as your child grows older, you can start making these boundaries in consultation with your kid. This helps to empower them for independent decision-making, and encourages a healthy relationship between the two of you.

Benefits of a gentle parenting style


Both adults and children benefit from a gentle parenting approach. Here’s how:

Empowers children
Parenting can sometimes turn into a power struggle, but gentle parenting turns that dynamic on its head. It encourages parents to empower their children to actively participate in the world, set their own boundaries and understand their needs, which helps them to express themselves clearly and respectfully. This approach increases a child’s self-respect and can significantly reduce their susceptibility to bullying.

Reduces anxiety
Studies suggest that gentle parenting can lower the risk of anxiety in children. It promotes regulated responses in social contexts, which is particularly beneficial for shy toddlers.

Strengthens family bonds
Gentle parenting actually enhances the parent-child relationship with fun activities, mindfulness, communication, and respect. The most valuable aspect a child receives from this method is not material but the unconditional love, time, and support from their parents.

Develops positive social skills
Because this style is rooted in empathy, understanding, and respect, children learn to emulate these traits. This early foundation can lead to the development of strong, positive social skills.

The pros of gentle parenting


Gentle parenting moves away from traditional punitive methods and towards empathy and collaboration. And while it fosters strong emotional bonds, it also requires significant commitment, adaptation– and a bucketload of patience. But let’s start with the brightside.

Teaches empathy and understanding
Gentle parenting encourages children to see how their actions affect others. This method helps them learn important life lessons about consequences, similar to traditional parenting, but with a focus on emotions. For example, by understanding how their behaviour makes others feel, children can learn to adjust their actions based on empathy rather than fear of punishment.

Acts as a motivational tool
Rather than merely correcting negative emotions, gentle parenting focuses on encouraging positive actions through motivation. Think of it as coaching a sport: if a child struggles with a particular skill, you work together to find effective strategies to improve.

This approach applies to behavioural challenges too. If a child exhibits aggression or defiance, gentle parenting encourages exploring underlying issues and coaching through them, fostering a more thoughtful and constructive response.

Builds strong parent-child relationships
This parenting style significantly strengthens the bond between parent and child. When parents model kindness, respect, and empathy, their children are likely to imitate and internalise. (Monkey see, monkey do!)

This nurturing approach results in a more secure, confident, and emotionally aware child.

Promotes self-regulation and social skills
Gentle parenting helps children develop self-regulation skills by teaching them to understand and manage their emotions. This is crucial in social contexts, where children learn to respond appropriately to different social cues and interactions. As they grow, these skills become vital for forming healthy boundaries and interacting respectfully with others.

The cons of gentle parenting


Like any other parenting style, gentle parenting also comes with a few drawbacks:

Time, patience and dedication
Gentle parenting doesn’t happen in a day. It needs to be consistent and it demands a lot of time and patience from parents, which can be particularly challenging in today’s fast-paced world.

Parents need to be consistently present and engaged, taking the time to understand their child’s feelings and behaviours deeply. This can be difficult for parents who juggle multiple responsibilities or those who have less flexible work schedules.

Requires a shift in parental thinking
Gentle parenting means work for the parents too.

The first step is usually unlearning behaviours and disciplinary techniques that were modelled on them.

Gentle parenting often requires a radical shift in perspective. It’s more lenient than authoritative parenting, but more firm than a permissive approach – ultimately being a more democratic and empathetic approach.

This change can be challenging and uncomfortable, as it often goes against ingrained behaviours that we grew up with. Some parents might even get criticised by their own parents who believe more in the ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’ approach.

Potential for inconsistency
Because gentle parenting shuns strict rules in favour of guiding principles, there can be a lack of consistency, especially if both parents are not fully aligned. This inconsistency can sometimes confuse children about expectations and boundaries.

Difficult implementation in public or high-stress situations
Gentle parenting requires calm, rational responses, which can be particularly challenging to maintain in public or during stressful situations. Reacting with gentleness and patience when under pressure or scrutiny can test even the most committed and gentle parent.

Tips for gentle parenting


Ready to go from, “Because I said so,” to “Let’s discuss this and find a solution”? Here are some tips to help incorporate gentle parenting in your everyday life.

1. Comment on actions, not character
When addressing behaviours, focus on the specific action rather than labelling the child.

For example, replace “You’re mean to your sister” with “I don’t think your sister likes it when you pull her hair. Let’s try a different approach and see how she responds.”

This teaches that while actions may be incorrect, they do not define your child as a person.

2. Model kindness in all forms
This one is perhaps the hardest. If we can’t keep our cool, we can’t expect our children to keep their cool.

So do a quick self-analysis and pause if you notice yourself being unkind to a stranger, a co-worker, or even your child.

Instead, demonstrate how to handle emotions and stress by practising self-care openly. Say things like, “I’m really tired today, so I’m going to take a nice shower and head to bed early,” to show your child how to care for themselves and others.

3. Encourage positive actions
Focus on what children can do rather than what they can not do.

For instance, instead of saying, “Don’t touch that,” you can guide them with, “Let’s use gentle hands on this” or “This one is just for looking.” This clearly communicates expectations and encourages appropriate behaviour.

4. Set healthy boundaries
When adopting a gentle parenting approach, it’s crucial to ensure that everyone interacting with your child understands and respects your parenting style. This includes teachers, peers, friends, babysitters, and extended family members.

By clearly explaining your expectations and the rationale behind them, you help build a consistent environment for your child.

For instance, discussing with teachers how you handle conflicts or with babysitters what you expect during a temper tantrum ensures that your child receives a unified approach from all caregivers.

5. Plan ahead for negative behaviour
Anticipating and planning for negative behaviour can significantly improve how effectively you respond to it. Setting clear expectations with your child is essential. For example, if dinner is at 6 p.m. daily with no phones allowed, make this rule known well in advance to avoid misunderstandings.

Similarly, think ahead about potential scenarios, like a child acting out in a grocery store if they can’t get a desired item. Having a strategy in place that allows you to handle the situation calmly and effectively reinforces the gentle parenting principles of empathy and understanding.

Gentle parenting tips for dangerous situations


Your child runs out on the road, jumps in the pool or thinks it is fun to switch on the stove. Is it possible to tackle these with a gentle parenting approach?

Yes. Gentle parenting adapts to different circumstances, particularly in dangerous situations. For instance, if a child is at risk, such as running into the street, the gentle parenting approach becomes immediately directive. It’s crucial to swiftly remove the child from harm and then explain the danger of their actions.

A calm, clear conversation from gentle parents helps the child understand why their behaviour was unsafe, emphasising learning over punishment. This direct yet gentle intervention is key in teaching children how to handle dangerous scenarios safely.

Gentle versus permissive parenting: Same or different?


While gentle parenting and permissive parenting both emphasise empathy and understanding, they differ significantly in their approach to boundaries and rules. Permissive parents often resemble friendships, with few limits placed on the child’s behaviour.

This style may foster a warm relationship but lacks the structure needed to develop self-discipline in older children. In contrast, gentle parenting involves setting age-appropriate boundaries and expectations; encouraging attachment parenting practices while still allowing children to express their opinions and feelings about these guidelines.

This approach helps children learn to navigate rules and boundaries through discussion and mutual respect, developing their ability to respond thoughtfully to various situations.

Self-care as a gentle parent


Gentle parenting also means being gentle with yourself. Often, this parenting style can be quite taxing – because we put a lot of pressure on how we filter our responses and as a result, might internalise a fair bit. 

Plus as a gentle parent, you’ll likely reflect on how you were parented and that could bring up some stuff for you.

Remember to take a moment for yourself, and know that it’s so normal and healthy to do that.

Whether that be journalling, lighting a candle, giving someone a big hug, or a hot cup of peppermint tea. Talk to the people around you, connect with a support network, and go easy on yourself.

Baby steps into gentle parenting


Remember, there’s no such thing as a perfect parent.

And while you don’t have to wake up one day with a completely different parenting style, you can gently ease into it. It might take a month or it might take a year, and that’s okay. The first step of gentle parenting, starts by being kind to yourself.

Sources


What Is Gentle Parenting? (2022), Cleveland Clinic. Available at: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-is-gentle-parenting

Walters, A.S. (2024) ‘Gentle parenting: A new parenting approach?’, The Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter, 40(7), pp. 8–8. doi:10.1002/cbl.30800

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